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article imageToyota introduces robot designed to provide companionship

By Lucky Malicay     Oct 4, 2016 in Technology
Tokyo - Car maker Toyota Motor Corporation has unveiled a cupholder-size robot designed to provide companionship in Japan where birth rates are plunging.
The tiny robot, called Kirobo Mini, is a cuddlesome communication partner equipped with the ability to respond to its user’s emotions. It will be commercially available across Japan starting next year.
With a baby-like high-pitched voice, the $390, four-inch tall Kirobo Mini can blink its eyes and is capable of engaging in casual conversation. It also has a camera, microphone, Bluetooth and can connect to a smartphone.
"He wobbles a bit, and this is meant to emulate a seated baby, which hasn't fully developed the skills to balance itself," Fuminori Kataoka, Kirobo Mini's chief design engineer, was quoted as saying by Reuters. "This vulnerability is meant to invoke an emotional connection."
Toyota, however, said Kirobo Mini has no face recognition technology that will enable it to identify different people so the idea is designed to be one robot per person. Kataoka said many Japanese who are living alone need someone to communicate with.
"This is not smart enough to be called artificial intelligence," Kataoka told the Associated Press. "This is about the existence of something you can talk to. A stuffed animal might not answer back, but people do talk to it, like my daughter once did this. But if it talked back, wouldn't that be better? And isn't this better than talking to a box?"
Toyota, which starts accepting pre-orders later this year, will have pre-sales at designated dealers in Tokyo and Aichi Prefecture for consumer feedback. The company, however, has no plan for overseas sales so far.
Kirobo Mini is currently being displayed at the IT and electronics exhibition, which runs until October 7, at the Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba Prefecture where visitors will have the opportunity to try the robot.
Japan has 314 robotic machines per 100,000 employees, second only to South Korea in terms of industrial robot use worldwide. Companion robots have been widely accepted in the country, where machines are now starting to invade homes, hospitals and offices.
In June, electronics giant Sony announced plans to return to robot-making business, saying it eyes to introduce a robot that is “capable of forming an emotional bond." The move could be a signal for the return of the wildly popular Aibo robotic dogs that Sony had abandoned in 2006 due to the company's restructuring drive.
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